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Professional Development

William L. White, Director
Faculty Development
SUNY – Buffalo State
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14222-1095

Did you know…

that first-generation college students make up over 40% of Buffalo State’s
first-year (freshman) class – a number that is slightly higher than national
averages. While the percentage of first generation college students
enrolled is a strong demonstration of the College’s commitment to access
and inclusion, the challenges that face these students are different than
those faced by students whose families have college-level experience.

Research suggests that work, family commitments, shock at the culture
present on campuses, and understanding connections between academic
and career goals are among the most significant challenges that first-
generation college students face. These challenges are, in fact, so
formidable that less than 24% of first-generation graduate. Yet, even with
obstacles to overcome, first-generation college students can be successful
when pedagogy, engagement, and care intersect.

To begin, research from Stanford University suggests that being open about
family histories and parental education attainment is an important, indeed
essential, component of first-gen success. In the study, first-gen students
who explored their fears in open conversation with faculty and peers earned
higher year-end GPAs and felt more confident in their overall chances of
completing their degree programs. This suggests that faculty who teach
classes with high first-year enrollments might want to spend some time
discussing student histories, fears, and expectations. The results can help
faculty and students understand and map pathways to success.

In addition to classroom conversations, research notes that creating a
culture of success is vital to first-gen student success. Success can be
measured in many ways, but within the academy, we often use formal
assessment as our primary tool. When first-gen students perform poorly on
initial assessments, they tend, according to research, to view their
performance as a clear indicator of their inability to succeed and either drop
out or disengagement. Assessments that are based on mastery learning
and which emphasis connections between curricular objectives and lived
experiences seem to eliminate some of the phobias surrounding
assessment and help first-gen students build a culture of success that does
not eliminate rigor but which promotes long-term success.

Director of Faculty Development at Buffalo State. As faculty in courses with high first-year and first-gen enrollments. And finally.While there are many more practices that promote first-gen student success (see the resources list below). These activities can include. to connect course content to the lives of students  Use various forms of assessment (class participation. there is much more information available (see below).g. and know that when engaged and supported. engagement in the life of the campus is important for long-term success. Classroom Tips  Use Student Response Systems (e. please do not hesitate to contact Bill White. Clickers) to monitor student comprehension of materials  Use interactive learning models (e. should you want to discuss how to ensure first-generation college student success. first-generation college students can not only be successful. collaborative learning. think about your own teaching practices. mastery learning. and activities that encourage students to explore not only the meaning of a college education but also the campus resources that help ensure success. we might consider ways to help students “see” the campus as an integrated whole where all parts are working toward the ultimate goal of student success. at the same time. whenever possible. Please look over some these sites. among others. course-based activities that require students to work in small groups on projects that are campus-based. cooperative learning. we might end this short “did you know” with a focus on engagement. Yet. reflections. Research notes that many first-gen students are pulled away from the college campus by family and work commitments.) to gauge student progress  Use course content as the point of access to Student Learning Outcomes  Create in-class learning communities that offer peer-learning opportunities  Talk about the challenges of transitioning to college-level courses . etc.g. they can also present strong and diverse points of view within your classes. While the foregoing has been a short review of some of major findings related to the challenges and potential of first-generation college students. and project-based learning) to engage students in course materials  Use daily experiences. short tests.. several required office meetings with faculty to gauge student progress and to discuss student needs..

discuss not only course work. study techniques. ask about preferred learning styles.g... and amount of time spent on school work. comment first on content and what you learned rather than on problems) Resources First-Generation College Student Resource Links Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning – First-Generation Students What Works for First-Generation College Students First-Generational Students Benefit from Talking Supporting First-Generation College Students through Classroom-Based Practices Institute for Student Identity and Success – Short Videos . find out challenges that students are facing and suggest resources that can help)  Use positive language when discussing work (e.In-Office Tips  Require students to attend at least two office hours per semester  Use engaged advising practices (e. but life outside the classroom.g.